The Idaho men’s basketball team did nearly everything right against Montana on Saturday afternoon, but a poor performance at the free throw line cost Idaho the victory, falling 72-71 to the Grizzlies.
Idaho (6-8) shot 48 percent (25-of-52) from the field, held Montana (5-4) to a 43.5 percent clip, and dominated the paint with a 42-24 rebounding advantage, a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint, and a 15-3 advantage in second-chance points. But Montana went 18-for-18 at the free throw line in the second half while Idaho missed 10 second-half free throws, going 13-for-23 at the stripe.
“To me it’s that simple, we missed 15 free throws and lost by one,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said after the game. “You can look at all the difference scenarios in that game and all the things that went on, but the bottom line is we go to the line 23 times in the second half – they go 18-for-18 and we go 13-for-23. You’ve got to make your free throws. The game is on the line and they go to foul you and we don’t make them.”
The Vandals led by as many as 15 points just before halftime and took a 12-point, 35-23, lead into the break. That advantage hovered between seven and 12 points for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Grizzlies made a 14-3 run to cut Idaho’s lead to just one at 59-58 with 4:21 to play. Idaho pulled back ahead by as many as six points with 1:22 to play, but the Vandals missed three free throws in the final 82 seconds, allowing Montana to hang around.
With four seconds to play, the Vandals led by one point at 71-70, but a costly turnover on an attempted inbounds play followed by a foul gave Montana’s Kareem Jamar two free throws and chance at Montana’s first lead of the game. Jamar sunk both shots and a deep 3-pointer from Idaho’s Mike Scott at the buzzer didn’t fall, giving the Griz the 72-71 win.
“The thing to focus in on is not what happened on the last play of the game or some of the specific plays, because at that point we gave Montana a chance to get back in,” Verlin said. “We basically gave them a Christmas present. You have to finish games and you have to make your layups and you have to make your free throws. Instead of begging for a foul or wanting someone to give you a game, you have to go and win it, and we didn’t do that.”
Idaho senior Stephen Madison poured in a career-high 35 points and added 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. Madison hit 11-of-18 shots and went to the free throw line 18 times, converting 12 of those. Junior Bira Seck notched his second double-double with a 10-point, 10-rebound performance. Senior Glen Dean added 12 points and four rebounds for Idaho.
For the game, Idaho went just 18-of-33 (54.5 percent) from the free throw line, and also struggled from 3-point range, hitting just 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) long balls. Idaho’s 17 turnovers also proved costly, as Montana took advantage to outscore the Vandals 19-4 off turnovers.
The Vandals return to action on Jan. 2 when Western Athletic Conference play begins against Kansas City in the Cowan Spectrum at 7 p.m. Idaho will stay at home to host Chicago State on Jan. 4.